The men convened by the foot of the stone steps at Our Lady of the Assumption. A few lit up cigarettes, while the leaders, the talkers of the group, started workshopping plans. The night still young (it was five past 9 p.m. on a Wednesday) and no one to go home to, the more social members of the evening men’s group usually spilled over into J.J. Kilroy’s Pub on W 5th Street. It was a great way to split up the week.
At the bar, I found myself sitting next to the refrigerator-shaped gentleman, the one whose white mustache wiggled as he spouted 50-year-old gems of grizzled humor. They called him Sully. The shitty 13-inch TV above the bar spat out a news report about a family of 13 children, each of whose name began with the letter ‘J.’ The reporter was interviewing the father.
“Tell me, sir, at this point, can you even name all of your children?”
“Sure can. That’s Jerry, Janelle, Johnny, Joe, Jennifer, Julie, Jocelyn, Jack, Jessica, Jillian, Joan, Justin and the little one there, that’s Jasper.”
Sully quipped, “What is this guy? A Jerk-off?”
A couple of compadres, including myself, let out the low rumble of belly laughs. Sully was always good for a few of those a night. Kilroy’s fit all of the known stereotypes for a dive: dark; dank; dingy; and, after a few pints with the crew, delightful. Overhead hanging lamps lit the glistening surface of the bar, but all the corners, by the pool tables and the wall-side stools, were shrouded in their proximal lack thereof light. As far as I could tell, no cougars lurked in the shadows. At the far end of the bar, sat a few 20-something co-eds, pert, blonde and beautiful. No way they weren’t Bookface plug-ins, but our unrelenting friend Stanley would have to be sure.
“Stan,” I said. “You know–even if they somehow do have even the slightest interest in you–that you’ll need a Bookface profile to get either of their numbers. Something we both know you don’t have.”
“Who knows,” Stanley said. “Maybe they’re Stan-sexual.”
His ear-to-ear, cartoon grin raised the wire framed glasses a few centimeters above his wide nose. I was pretty sure, even if Stanley had had a Bookface profile, his chances with these snapdragons would net to absolute nil. Although, what he lacked in charm, he made up for in utter shock value.
Stan was just far enough away and spoke just loud enough in his slow whiny delivery for the group to eves drop on this most certain kamikaze mission to the other side of the bar.
“Hey ladies, how are we doing tonight?” Stanley began talking to the two young fillies before they had a chance to notice he was there.
“We’re fine,” the one on the right said. “Were we found compatible on last week’s Bookface matchup or something?” The girl was genuinely puzzled that this random dude had decided to approach her on the cold open. For the most part, Bookface had done away with that aspect of life for the vast majority of plugged in proletariats.
“Nah, I don’t even have an account,” Stan said matter-of-factually, a stark contrast to the sheer puzzlement it effected in both of the girls’ faces, which expressed verbally a ringing sentiment of ‘Who is this guy??’
“You’re not seriously trying to hit on us the old-fashioned way, are you?” inquired the other girl. “Sorry, we don’t date guys whom we can’t background check on Bookface. Haven’t you seen the public service announcements? ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a Bookface by his profile.'”
“I don’t watch much TV neither,” Stan answered quickly, almost cutting the second girl off. He turned back to his original target.
“It’s OK. We don’t need to develop a relationship here; we can just fuck.”
On that note, both girls were up out of their stools. The first girl threw a wad of cash on the bar to cover the tab. Both made a bee line to the door, reassuring the bartender they didn’t need change. If anything, BJ the bartender should have thanked Stanley for their generous tip.
“Ah well,” Stanley said walking back to our section of the watering hole. “Turns out they were a couple of prudes.”
“Stanley,” Sully piped up out of his somber state. “How many times I gotta tell you: no girl under 40’s gonna give you the time a day without a Bookface. You ain’t Brad Pitt… maybe Sad Shit.” The laughter broke the tension Stanley had caused by his awkward social display. All was forgotten and we could go back to drinking in merriment, a bliss in the inebriated ignorance that none of us would have performed any better. Not without Bookface. As I sipped sweet, velvety ale, I secretly hoped no one in the bar recognized me from my profile picture.
One pint turned into many, among the growing roar of hearty jocularity and clinking glasses, an amalgam of sound which reverberated the wooden walls of J.J. Kilroy’s Pub. And soon, my senses sunk into the liquid abyss of drunkenness. Time also slipped into a figment of my imagination and there was no telling how much of this mythological concept had passed, but, then, suddenly, my head resurfaced from the briney brainwaves. I couldn’t tell whether I was six or 16 pints deep, but my consciousness awoke on a biting cold-air slap that wisped in with the sight of four cougars entering Kilroy’s Pub. They entered as a gang of Old West outlaws would have, swinging open the springloaded double doors of some seedy saloon sitting dilapidated on a dirt road, bright light shining at there backs to silhouette their shrouded figures as mysterious black entities. Bevilacqua would have called them a pack of pumae. They moved as one body, four sets of eyes scanning the many dark corners of the lounge. The leader walked in front of the other three dragging daintily the thin film of a burning cigarette behind her, between two fingers swiveling with the rhythm of her gate, which translated its movement on the ball of a relaxed wrist. I was the first to notice them as Sully spun one of his drawn-out tales to our group. In my heightened state, my mind relegated that chatter to the back burner, as the majority of my attention fixated on this four-headed beast. They set up post around a pedestal-style table at the outskirts of the bar, perching on the surrounding stools to further survey the field. ‘What was it Bevilacqua was saying about pumae?’ I thought to myself. ‘Ahh yes. They hunt in packs.’ My gut instinct was, thus, to steer clear. I wish I could’ve said the same for Stanley. A few moments later, I saw him poke his head out of Sully’s rhetoric, like a meerkat protruding from his hole. Not a beat after that, Stanley splintered from the safety of the social circle we had created for ourselves at the bar.
“Stanley!” I yelled after him. “Remember what Bevilacqua said: don’t break from the herd! Pumae hunt in packs!” My slurred words were white noise to him, drowned out by the sea of a hundred conversations and juke box ambiance.
Even if my words had fallen on his ale-soaked ears, it would have been too late. The pumae swallowed him up in the center of their pedestal stronghold. Too intimidated by Bevilacqua’s admonitions, I was helpless to retrieve him. And everybody else was still ensconced by Sully’s story. That kid didn’t have a chance. Maybe there was something to Bevilacqua’s ramblings. When I first began attending the MACHO meetings, I thought him a lonely, bitter and delusional man, rejected and thus seeking vengeance on the whole of femininity, but his advice seemed to hold water, as evidenced by the display I had just witnessed. As Sully carried on, I kept one eye on the mysterious circle holding ground at the outskirts of the bar. The pumae were playing with Stanley, mentally toying with him as if his emotions were a giant ball of yarn, passing him back and forth between their circle and further entangling the strings of his will within their protracting claws, until he resembled a marionette puppet bending to their every whim. And then, just like that, they were gone. I had looked away for maybe 20 seconds. And when my surveying eye returned to that section of the bar, the four stools around that pedestal had been vacated by the pack and its prey… the unfortunate and weak Stanley.
— OFF THE BOOK —